Black restaurant workers received less in tips than others during pandemic, report says


A waiter wears a face mask at an outdoor dining area outside a restaurant during a snow storm on December 16, 2020 in New York City.

Noam Galai | Getty Images

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities, Black workers in the restaurant industry are feeling the effects, according to a new report.

During the pandemic, tips given to Black restaurant workers have declined more than have tips to workers in other racial groups, a report by labor advocacy group One Fair Wage says. Nearly 90% of Black workers have reported their tips have declined by 50% or more. By comparison, 78% of all workers said their tips had declined by that much.

About 4,100 workers in five states and Washington, D.C., participated in the survey, which was conducted over the phone and via email from October through January.

Although Black workers represent the majority of the tipped service industry, they are also the ones making the least, according to the report, which examined government data and its survey’s findings, among other sources.

Even prior to Covid-19, Black food service workers said they receive fewer tips on average than their White counterparts, with some earning as little as $10 an hour.

Covid-19 has also been a continuing threat to their health and well-being. According to the survey, more Black employees knew someone who had contracted or died from the disease than others, putting Black workers at risk for Covid-19 at work and at home.

Black workers, like other workers, reported an increase in sexual harassment during the pandemic, including #MaskualHarrassment, a term that describes male customers asking women to remove their mask and determining the amount of tips they give based on the woman’s appearance. Forty percent of restaurant workers surveyed said they were victims of sexual harassment on the job during the pandemic.

Eight in 10 workers have reported hostile reactions when enforcing health protocols, which have affected the amount of tips they receive. But slightly more Black workers, about 86%, have experienced this.

“Sometimes if you ask a customer to put on a mask or step away a little, they get angry and go out their way to get closer to you or to touch you just to make you feel uncomfortable,” a respondent said in the report.

The report comes amid a growing discussion about raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. President Joe Biden’s proposal would more than double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which has not been increased since 2009.

Correction: Eight in 10 workers have reported hostile reactions when enforcing health protocols. An earlier version of this story misstated who experienced this trend. Also, 78% of all workers said their tips had declined by at least 50%; an earlier version misstated this statistic.

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